Chasing dreams

Lottie was born different to most little girls. She knew this not because people regularly told her so (although they did), but rather because she could see with her own eyes. Not that she could ever understand why it mattered – apart from identical twins like Janey and Suki at nursery nobody looked exactly the same. And anyway, wasn’t there a famous phrase about variety being the spice of life?

As she grew up Lottie’s parents tried to manage her expectations of what she could achieve in life. She would never, they told her, be an athlete. But Lottie took exception to this. Why couldn’t she be an athlete? If she didn’t see her disability as insurmountable then why should anybody else?

For a while, during her early teens, Lottie towed the line. She concentrated on her grades at school and had a couple of boyfriends, pretending to have given up her wild ambition to be a sporting legend.

But behind the scenes she was as determined as ever. She found an academy and worked hard to win a scholarship. The day the letter came through her mother found her jumping for joy in the kitchen. Her jaw nearly hit the floor when Lottie explained what it meant.

“Running?” she’d said, a look of total incomprehension on her face.

“Yes Mum,” Lottie had replied. “Running.”

“But you don’t have….”

“Lower legs. No Mum, I don’t. But I do have these.” She pointed to her blades.

Her mother sighed and shook her head, and in that moment Lottie knew they’d crossed a boundary in their relationship that could never be uncrossed.

They couldn’t understand why she did it, given how hard she had to work at it, how much it took out of her.

But Lottie knew exactly why she did it.

She ran to chase her dreams.

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I’m ashamed to admit I can’t remember the name of this beautiful boy, who I met whilst volunteering at an orphanage in Tanzania in 2007. He was wheelchair-bound and required daily physio in the form of his fellow orphans and myself and my fellow volunteers following a set routine of arm and leg bending exercises. I never felt he was getting anywhere near the level of treatment he required, and he often looked as if he were in pain, but he never complained and always had a wide smile on his face. I felt so sad remembering him just now that I cried. I pray he’s somewhere happy and safe, receiving the care he so desperately needs.

Changing Faces

She shivered in her duffel coat as the train crawled into the platform, though the temperature for this time of year was nothing short of balmy. A tall boy in a suit (for no designer can disguise a baby face with the cut of a jacket) sidled up to her, too close for comfort, and pulled a newspaper from underneath his arm, in which he feigned interest as he stole furtive glances at her face. He smelt of cheap aftershave and adolescent sweat. She ignored him and waited for the train to come to a halt, for the little orange light to flash its assent that she may board.

The doors opened and in the rush for a seat she noticed the boy had dropped his newspaper on the platform. He looked awkward now, exposed and gawky as he stood in the centre of the carriage, hand stretched up and groping for stability, eyes casting about for some other means of focus than her face. Someone offered her a seat, and as she sat down their eyes met. He smiled a nervous smile and looked away. She looked out of the window at the passing houses, wondering idly whether anyone was still in the comforting arms of their bed instead of battling the throng of commuters like her.

When the train reached her station they both stood up, him first, then her. He stepped back to let her pass with an exaggerated wave of his hand, an act of chivalry not fitting with his age, perhaps not even with the age in which they lived. She felt the muscles in her cheeks tug at the corners of her mouth, but no smile was forthcoming.

Wordlessly, soundlessly, they disembarked the train, and for a short while walked in perfect synchronicity to the escalator. It was there he found his voice.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Oh.” His unlined brow strained to form wrinkles of confusion. “I thought that…maybe we’d met before.”

She shook her head again.

He shrugged and set off down the escalator, melting into the crowd below.

She had been pretty once, or at least that’s what they told her. There was a time when boys like this would look at her with lust instead of pity. There was a time when this boy had looked at her like that. But what good would it have done to tell him that yes, he did know her, before the accident that stripped her of her face and left behind the empty shell that had just now stood before him?

She shrugged and set off down the escalator, melting into the crowd below.

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To accompany this post I tried to find a picture that encapsulates the idea of things not always being what they seem. This one was taken in the Singapore Museum last year, and I remember being blown away by this walkway surrounded by thousands of television screens, the images of which combined to make bigger images that told a story. Impressive doesn’t quite cover it.